Vision hypothesis

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The vision hypothesis is a term used to cover a range of theories that question the physical resurrection of Jesus, and suggest that sightings of a risen Jesus were visionary experiences.

As the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus is a cornerstone of Christian belief, the vision hypothesis is controversial. It is not accepted by most Christians. However, for example, it is advocated by some members of the Jesus Seminar such as Gerd Lüdemann.


David Friedrich Strauss (1835) originated the vision hypothesis as part of the Tübingen School rejection of the New Testament records.[1] This was developed by Ernest Renan (1863) and Albert Réville (1897).[2] These interpretations were later classed the "subjective vision hypothesis."

Hans Grass (1964) proposed an "objective vision hypothesis" whereby Jesus' spirit was resurrected but his body remained dead, explaining the belated conversion of Jesus' half-brother James, however Grass' "objective" vision hypothesis finds no echo in more recent scholarship.[3]


Alfred Edersheim (1959) pointed out several objections to the hypothesis, including that the record shows that disciples expected Jesus to remain dead and needed convincing of the opposite.[4] Others also have cited Christ's eating with the Twelve and showing them his wounds.[5] However, it must be noted that the resurrection appearance reports in Luke and John were the last to be written and are, hence, consistent with legendary growth.

Today several Christian apologist scholars such as Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig and Michael Morrison have argued against the vision explanations for the resurrection.[6][7][8] William Lane Craig and Gerd Lüdemann entered a written debate on the subject in 2000.[9] Against their claim, the earliest witness to the Resurrection in 1 Cor 15:5-8 seems to imply the appearances were visions since Paul makes no distinction regarding their nature. In the list Paul is happy to equate the appearance to him (which was a vision) with that of the others by employing the use of ὤφθη "appeared/was seen" for each one. Contrary to what modern Christian apologists assert, the fact that Paul places his "vision" of Jesus in the same list as the Resurrection appearances proves that early Christians accepted "visions" as evidence Christ had been resurrected. Christian apologists are committed to the Orthodox view of the physical resurrection depicted in the Gospels and are thus, necessarily, reading their a priori commitments into Paul's firsthand testimony which nowhere corroborates any of the Gospels "physical" details regarding the Risen Christ.

Pinchas Lapide rejected the hallucination theory. After examining the various claims he wrote, “If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception—without a fundamental faith experience—then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gregory W. Dawes The Historical Jesus Question 2001 Page 334 "[Note] 168 Pannenberg classes all these attempts together under the heading of "the subjective vision hypothesis."169 In the present study, we have seen this hypothesis exemplified in the work of David Friedrich Strauss. Strauss argues that, after ..."
  2. ^ Rush Rhees The Life of Jesus of Nazareth 2007 "This last explanation has in recent times been revived in connection with the so-called vision-hypothesis by Renan and Réville. Mary found the tomb empty, and being herself of a highly strung nervous nature—she had been cured by Jesus of "
  3. ^ Gerd Luedemann in The Historical Jesus in Recent Research ed. James D. G. Dunn, Scot McKnight - 2005 Page 418 "The thesis of an “objective vision” has rightly found no echo in more recent scholarship, but Grass does more in his excellent book than provide a basis for the objective vision hypothesis.
  4. ^ Alfred Edersheim The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah 1959 Volume 1 "The 'Vision-hypothesis' is not much improved, if we regard the supposed vision as the result of reflection - that the disciples, convinced that the Messiah could not remain dead (and this again is contrary to fact) had wrough themselves first into ."
  5. ^ Hank Hanegraaff The Third Day 2003- Page 49 "... and John, who recount Christ's eating with the Twelve and showing them his wounds (see Luke 24:36–43; John 20:19–20). ... “even the skeptical NT critic Hans Grass admits that the conversion of James is one of the surest proofs of the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
  6. ^ Habermas
  7. ^ Craig
  8. ^ Michael Morrison The Resurrection of Jesus: A History of Interpretation
  9. ^ Charles Foster The Jesus Inquest: The Case For and Against the Resurrection of ... 2011 "Gerd Lüdemann in Paul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli, ed., Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment: A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Lüdemann (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000)"
  10. ^ Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, p.126.
  • Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. John Bowden (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994)
  • Alf Ozen and Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus? A Historical Approach to the Resurrection', trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995) ISBN 0-664-25647-3